Last week I flew back and forth from Boston to Reno by way of Phoenix. Both PHX-RNO legs took me past parts of Nevada I hadn’t had a good look at before. One item stood out: a dry lake that looked, literally, like a town had been built on it and blown up. In fact, this was the case. The lake was Frenchman Lake, on Frechman Flat, a valley in a part of the desert known as the Nevada Test Site. The town was nicknamed “Doom Town,” and it was built to see what would happen to it in an atomic blast. Here’s a video that shows the results.

In fact more than a dozen blasts rocked the Doom Town area, starting with Able, in 1951 — the first at the Test Site.

This shot shows Yucca Lake and Yucca Flat, which has many dozens of subsidence craters where underground blasts have gone off. This Google Maps view shows the same from above. All the blasts look like rows of dimples in the desert. But some are hundreds of feet across. Before reading about underground nuclear testing, I had thought that all the tests were deep enough to avoid surface effects.

This shot looks across the Test Site to Area 51. Amazing place. Some of what they say about it may even be true. By the way, that shot was taken (I just checked) from almost 100 miles away. I used a Canon 5D and a zoom telephoto lens set to 200mm.

8 comments

  1. Robert Rose’s avatar

    Doc,
    This is why I love your blog so much. I love that you notice shit like this as you’re flying on a commercial jet.

    I just spent 20 minutes looking at this picture, the Google Maps, the video and revisiting the Video of the Bomb results….. I love that they suggested Cinder block houses as that which would survive the blast the best.

    Thanks for an interesting way to start a Thursday.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Robert.

    I would rather do a post like this, which as far as I know was deeply interesting to exactly one person, than fifty posts that get hundreds of responses but don’t change anything for anybody.

    So thanks again for letting me know. I really appreciate it.

  3. John’s avatar

    Amazing photo and story. It is fascinating what the human mind can absorb from something on a jet 30,000 feet in the air going 500 mph.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Well, John, all I absorbed at the time was the sense that this was a very odd sight, and quite likely one that had to do with bomb testing. I found out the rest after I got home, increased the contrast of the pictures, and started looking things up. After that the story got a lot more interesting. There’s also much that I missed. For example, I went right over Yucca Mountain, which also has an interesting history and role in atomic energy and its future. I got some pictures of the corner of the facility where the tunnels go into the mountain; but I missed the mountain itself. Next time, I’ll know.

  5. John’s avatar

    High-speed travel isn’t usually the camera’s best friend, although your photo looks good. Your contrast adjustments worked.

    I have done the same thing, i.e., researched something after I saw it just passing by. Did the plane “glow” as it passed the Yucca Mountain facility? Let us know what you discover on your next adventure.

  6. Jason Green’s avatar

    That is a great video, and you’re lucky to have actually seen the site from the air. People fly over so many great landmarks every day and don’t have any idea what they’re missing. Good catch.

  7. Gavin’s avatar

    Yowsa! Gives a new visual imagery to Hitler’s “scorched earth” concept, thank Christ he never got his hands on one of these bad boys though.

    Is it wrong that I find nuclear bomb blasts eerily majestic? Not the effects obviously, but nature’s geometry is beautiful.

  8. Bradford Fleming’s avatar

    Hello Doc, was this place the same as featured on the Hulk movie stared by Eric Bana? Just wondering though.

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